5 on the fly: astonishing movie sound effect tricks

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by Sarah Halfpenny

One of the most important but underrated jobs in the movie industry would have to be that of a Foley artist (named after Jack Foley, the pioneer of the artform back in the late 1920s). Foley artists use various props to devise and record the everyday sounds heard in films, television shows, and video games – noises like footsteps, fire, or the swishing of clothing (basically any sound that isn’t music or dialogue). Here are five of the most fascinating tricks and techniques that have been used to make sounds in movies…

  1. ‘Spartacus’ (1960)

Jack Foley himself saved the film from having to be reshot after they failed to get the desired sound of the chariot armour. Foley simply shook some keys and saved the movie!

  1. ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982)

Foley artist Joan Rowe was asked by director Steven Spielberg to make the alien’s movements sound “liquidy and friendly” so she went to the supermarket and bought packaged raw liver and played with it to make E.T.’s squishy body sounds, along with jelly in a wet towel and popcorn in a bag. (And yes, the liver would go off quickly, so she had to buy more every second day for the duration of filming!)

  1. Jurassic Park (1993)

To replicate the sound of a velociraptor hatching from its egg, the Foley artists on the film crumbled wafer ice-cream cones and for the wet sound of it emerging, they squished melons while wearing rubber gloves covered in liquid soap.

  1. Star Wars (1977)

The distinctive ‘hum’ of Lightsabers being swished and clashed is known around the world. It was actually created by accident when sound technician Ben Burtt was carrying a microphone across the room and passed behind a TV set (which was on but with the volume turned down). The microphone picked up a transmission from the tube and produced a buzz, which was combined with a projector motor sound to make the famous Lightsaber tone.

  1. The Exorcist (1977)

To create the snapping neck sound of demon-possessed Regan (played by Linda Blair) when her head turns an unnatural 360-degrees, Foley artist Gonzalo Gavira held an old leather wallet with credit cards inside it up to the microphone and twisted it. The sound of Regan’s infamous projectile vomiting was made by an actress named Mercedes McCambridge regurgitating a mixture of chewed up apple and raw egg (yuck!).

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